New Port Richey officials meet with protest leader

NEW PORT RICHEY — City officials are hoping to ease relations with a protestor who claimed that New Port Richey police violated his rights six months ago by tossing his group out of Sims Park.

The organizer of that May protest, Zachary Mitrovich, is now part of the fledgling Occupy New Port Richey group, which plans to protest at bank branches in the area, starting with a Bank of America branch at U.S. 19 and Main Street.

City Manager John Schneiger met with Mitrovich on Tuesday to hear his concerns about the May protest, in which the American Youth Movement 22211 carried signs decrying corporate power and government corruption. While he determined the police acted appropriately, Schneiger said he didn't anticipate problems with the upcoming Occupy protests.

"It was really a way to say let's not look backward, but move forward," Schneiger said.

Occupy New Port Richey member Daniel Callaghan said he and Mitrovich sought the meeting to ease strained relations with the city since the Sims Park incident. Callaghan filed a complaint in September with the New Port Richey Police Department saying officers wrongly threw American Youth Movement protestors out of the park during a fundraiser and concert earlier this year.

The event's organizers had invited the youth group to the May 21 Rock the Park, a daylong concert to benefit the Center for Independence and a local Marine who lost his legs in Afghanistan. But when the youth group showed up carrying protest signs and wearing American flag bandanas on their faces, organizers called on them to leave.

Mitrovich, 23, claims police officers threatened to cite them for trespassing if they did not leave. But a review by then-Police Chief Jeffrey Harrington found the officer made no such threats, and instead the American Youth members voluntarily left.

Schneiger offered to meet with Mitrovich in September. Both Schneiger and Mitrovich said an initial encounter between the two went badly.

"I really think it was a misunderstanding. He wasn't happy with the small amount of time I had that day," Schneiger said. "And with the way things happened I didn't think it would be productive for us to meet again."

But at Callaghan's request they met again Tuesday with Schneiger and acting police Chief James Steffens to discuss upcoming Occupy New Port Richey protests. Schneiger said he apologized for any misunderstanding during his first meeting.

Mitrovich said he appreciated the meeting with Schneiger and his pledge to uphold protestors' constitutional rights. But he is still considering filing a federal lawsuit against the city over the Sims Park incident.

"That's still my plan. But we'll see how they treat Occupy New Port Richey. That might change my mind," Mitrovich said. "Actions speak louder than words."

New Port Richey officials meet with protest leader 11/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 16, 2011 8:16pm]

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